Thursday, October 31, 2013

Inventive minds

I have two picture books to recommend that feature the inventive mind.

First is Awesome Dawson by Chris Gall.  This is a humourous look at what happens when the inventive spirit gets out of hand.

Dawson loves to build things from left over and broken bits of stuff that he finds around his house and neighbourhood.  The message: everything can be reused.  Unfortunately, his huge collection of found objects means he can’t always find things when he wants and his busy building schedule prevents him from doing his chores.  But this inventor decides that a chore-doing robot is just the ticket to take care of both of these problems.  “Stupendous!” as Dawson would say.  With cat food for brains, the robot starts to get out of control, sucking up everything in its path and growing bigger and bigger.  But resourceful Dawson figures out a solution for this problem, too.  It all ends happily.

Our next inventor is a grownup who just doesn't know the meaning of giving up.  Papa’sMechanical Fish by Candace Fleming is loosely based on a real inventor, Lodner Phillips.  Papa lives to work in his workshop inventing all sorts of things from collapsible coat hangers and edible socks to steam-powered roller skates.  But stymied by a lack of a ‘fantastic idea’ for his next invention, he takes the family fishing.  While fishing, he has his ‘eureka’ moment when his daughter, Virena, wonders aloud what it would be like to be a fish.  Over the next several weeks, Papa builds several prototypes of a mechanical fish (submarine) that get progressively bigger and better.  The message in this one is all about never giving up and learning from your mistakes.  Papa eventually gets it right and the whole family is able to go for a ride and experience life under water.  You just never know where inspiration will come from.
There is an interesting afterword that outlines the attempts of Lodner Phillips to build a submarine in the mid.  Apparently, not much has been written about Phillips, but the author does include the few sources for her story.

Both stories include elements of humour that are reinforced with the illustrations.

I recommend both of these for early elementary grades when looking for curriculum ties about science, building things, creative thinking and repurposing stuff to make new stuff.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A champion read

Muhammad Ali: the King of the Ring ,written by Lewis Helfand and illustrated by Lalit Kumar Sharma, is a graphic novel biography about, you guessed it, Muhammad Ali.

I was fairly surprised that I stuck with this one.  I’m not into sports in a big way, let alone boxing.  Just don’t see the appeal.  But I did grow up when Ali was looking to make his comeback during the 70s’ and his name was everywhere.

This comic book is a succinctly well-told narrative that covers Ali’s life as a young boy from a tight-knit family living in race-segregated Kentucky in the 40s’ and 50s’, to the present day. 

Learning to box was a fluke chance, but he immediately took to it and stuck with it, though apparently without much skill initially.  Ali’s tremendous drive to succeed takes us through his early fights, the 1960s Olympics in Rome, each comeback match he had in the 70s and his retirement in the 80s,

Interlaced with Ali’s personal history, the reader is given glimpses into the political climate and social fabric of American life. 

First, there’s Ali’s discovery and growing interest in the controversial group, Nation of Islam. While advocating racial pride for Black Americans, it also promoted hatred for all whites. Ali does become a follower, drawn to the peaceful aspects of Islam and its emphasis on Black pride, eventually taking a new name. Cassius Clay becomes Muhammad Ali.

The Vietnam War also had personal ramifications for Ali when he refused to be drafted into the army.  He was a pacifist who wanted no part of it.  This resulted in legal actions that prevented him from boxing for three years when he was at his peak.

The illustrations are a great way for us to follow his boxing career.  A lot of action is conveyed in the fight scenes with it often spilling over several panels.  The dialogue and description helps build the tension for each fight.  Will he win or lose this time?  Will his arrogance play against him?  Reading about the course of his career is fascinating.

Ali is conveyed as a determined, principled man who knew what he wanted and worked hard to get it. He is depicted as a humanitarian, generously helping others less fortunate, a family-man who looked after his parents and children and a dedicated boxer.  He respected his opponents despite his trash talk.

The book takes us to present day summing up the many aspects of Muhammad Ali’s greatness.

I would recommend this for grades 8 and up.  

Today's Nonfiction Monday event is being hosted at Booktalking.  Check up this round up of nonfiction children's literature from a variety of blogs.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Web resources

Today’s posting is a round up of interesting websites that I've come across over the last while, that I think might be of use in the classroom or perhaps to develop our  understanding about a particular topic.

First up, is a reminder about Historica Canada, a government website that features several web pages about all things Canada.  Topics covered include multiculturalism, immigration, history, citizenship, and Aboriginal stories.  Listen to audio recordings of interviews with war veterans or read about what it’s like to arrive in a new country or watch short videos that give us glimpses into important moments in Canadian history. Good resource for primary resources.  Does include some teaching support materials.  Remembrance Day is coming up and there may be some great tie-ins with this resource.

A couple of YouTube channels that I stumbled upon give brief (two or three minutes) video about science and science/history/social history.  Check out MinuteEarth and MinutePhysics.  The clips I watched explained the subject matter for non-experts, were on topic, and entertaining. Not necessarily what you’re going to use in an elementary classroom but maybe in high school or to build your own knowledge.

Next up is an interesting infographic that shows Canada’s population by latitude.  Go to Proofreader to see this poster.  I like this because it displays information in a different way and combines graphing with geographic thinking.  Might be useful in grade 5 social studies when looking at Canada.

How Stuff Worksa wholly owned subsidiary of Discovery Communications, is the award-winning source of credible, unbiased, and easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works.” (from website)  I've spent most of my time on the science page which I found to provide relevant information about an amazing array of subjects.

This next recommendation will be of interest mostly to Calgarians.  It’s an infographic from the City of Calgary that outlines the June 2013 flood, response and recovery.

In prepping for a workshop that the Doucette offers students, I came across this website, The Question Mark by Jamie MacKenzie.  It offers many articles on many aspects of teaching.  The issue I found particularly interesting was about the importance and development of good/essential questions.

And one last one…

It might seem  a little self serving to include this last one but I think if you're a teacher who has ever had to explain why reading fiction is important especially fantasy and science fiction then this speech by Neil Gaiman brings home the point brilliantly. The self serving element I refer to is that he extols the importance of libraries and librarians, as well.

I’d love to hear of some of your recommendations.  There is a lot of ‘stuff’ out there and it’s great when we can share some gems.  Thanks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Playing with our perceptions

I love being ‘knowingly’ tricked.  It can take me by surprise or make me sit up and take notice or just be entertaining.

Optical illusions can be like that.

13 Art Illusions That Children Should Know by Silke Vry takes us on an historical journey that explores and explains how the use of light, shadow and colour by artists can trick us into thinking that we are seeing something that is not really ‘real’ or ‘true’.

Besides learning about specific pieces of art by specific artists, we learn about techniques developed over time such as ‘perspective’.   A glossary at the back of the book explains terms such as anamorphosis, quodlibet, plasticity, and surrealism, to help us understand how artists have used rules about light and colour to deceive us.

A timeline along the tops of most pages keeps us on track chronologically. Also, included are non-artistic events such as the construction of the Parthenon or Taj Mahal, the Gutunberg press, World War II, the first photographs and so on, to give a broader historical context in which to place the art work.

The selected structures, paintings and illustrations have been well chosen to demonstrate the various techniques.  Cataract III by Bridget Riley is impossible to look at without seeing rolling waves, a perfect example of Op Art.  Surrealist Rene Magritte plays with our eyes and minds with Carte Blanche and Personal Values.  And, tromp l’oeil is well represented with a realistic ‘unswept floor’ done in mosaic from the second century A.D. and Quodlibet by Samuel van Hoogstraten, showing us a still life of various, seemingly random objects also rendered so realistically that we want to reach out and touch the medallion or pick up the scissors.

This is one of several books in a series that focuses on specifics that introduces middle grade students to art history and seminal, important and significant works of art.

Today is Nonfiction Monday over at Abby the Librarians blog.  You will find a list of nonfiction children's literature.  Enjoy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Favourite illustrators illustrating poetry IS poetry

Okay, two recommendations for today. 

First up is Pug and Other Animal Poems by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Steve Jenkins.

This is a collection of poems about fairly commonplace animals including various pets, insects, birds plus others that elicit some of their characteristics with beautiful language.  Though the poems are evocative they are not overly profuse making them very manageable for elementary students.  One poem I particularly liked was about a wood thrush, comparing his cry to the calls of blue jays and cardinals which fills “the air with Silver and water, A brilliant language Of leaves and rain Too rare for The human ear.”

Steve Jenkins illustrates the book with his characteristic paper collages that adds depth and dimension.  The fox is warm and lively, the bull solid and textured like harden lava rock as described in the accompanying poem, and the firefly luminous.  I love Steve Jenkins work (as many of you may remember from previous blogs) since he excels at capturing interesting and appealing aspects of animals.

These illustrated poems are in a word, delightful.

My second recommendation is Cat Talk by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Barry Moser.

My admiration for Barry Moser goes back a long way.  Not in person but by proxy through his art work.  He’s illustrated a lot of the big names in children’s literature such as Jane Yolen, Cynthia Rylant, Virginia Hamilton, Nancy Willard, Barbara Nichol, to name a few.  Besides some of his own retellings of fairy tales, he’s illustrated many classics such as the Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  Few illustrators do watercolour portraits of animals and people like Barry Moser.

This is a picture book of poems about cats, told from the cat’s perspective.  Princess Sheba Darling is oh, so beautiful, knows it and is not what you’d call humble about it either. Lily is happy as a barn cat around the various animals but is a little embarrassed about her new best friend – a mouse. Romeo is a gentle lover and there can never be too much love in the world, right?  And, then there’s Simon, always playful, sometimes to his own detriment.

Barry Moser captures their personalities perfectly.  Princess Sheba is elegantly draped with her long white, fluffy tail.  Lily is totally enjoying her down time with her new friend. Romeo is all loving softness, rubbing up against a willing hand.  And Simon is poised to strike at a pair of passing slippered feet.

Again, for the elementary crowd, this one will appeal to cat lovers especially.

There can be no doubt that these illustrators are true animal lovers.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Challenging the status quo

Who says women can’t be doctors?:the story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone is a terrific picture book about the first women to become a doctor in the United States in 1849.

It has a pretty typical biography format chronologically outlining Elizabeth’s life. Her childhood and her nature as a child are given several pages.  Despite being a “tiny wisp of a girl” she was supposedly a fairly resolute child who didn't back down from a challenge or a fight.

This quality would stand her in good stead when it came time for her to get into medical school and attending the school once she was accepted.  Neither of these was easy.  Twenty-eight schools refused her admittance.  The school that did accept her, Geneva Medical School in upstate New York, had done so more as a joke.  But her determination to stick it out resulted in her graduating with the highest grades.

That’s where the book ends but the author’s note at the end of the book fills us in on the rest of Elizabeth’s life as a struggling woman doctor.

Elizabeth’s story is an interesting one, showing us the tough road that women had to take to overcome prejudices from both men and women, to pursue their ambitions.  Elizabeth Blackwell is accredited with paving the way for women to become doctors.

Marjorie Priceman’s illustrations have a very airy, fluid feel to them that keeps the story moving, with bright colours and lots of white space.

I would recommend this for primary grades.

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